“Young Writers Need Guidance but they do not Listen” CONVERSATION WITH KUKOGHO SAMSON IRUESIRI
BY Ojo Olumide Emmanuel (Literature Voices)
(Kukogho Iruesiri Samson (KIS) is a Nigerian writer, publisher, multimedia journalist and youth mentor, known for his promotion of Nigerian writing through his multiple platforms; educational and publishing firms, Words Rhymes & Rhythm Ltd. He is presently a Communications Manager at a Federal Government Agency in Abuja. He is an award-winning author of books such as: What Can Words Do (2013), I Said These Words (2015), Words of Eros (2017), We Who Sowed Hurt & Beaded Pains (2017) and Devils Pawn (2020), which won the 1st Prize in the GTB Dusty Manuscript Prize (2018). KIS as he is popularly referred to within the Nigerian Literary Circle is in the list of the 100 Most Influential Nigerian Writers under 40 (2016-2018).)
Ojo: It’s awesome sharing a conversation with you and congratulations on the publication of your award-winning manuscript, “Devil’s Pawn.”
KIS: Thank you. I think I should also congratulate my readers for finally being able to read this work I started sharing in snippets as Facebook notes from as far back as 2011.
Ojo: Talking about ‘Devils Pawn’, in a conversation I read, you mentioned writing the work of fiction within the space of ten years and several sacrifices it exerted to become such an enviable piece. What is that extraordinary thing you wish the world would see in this work?
KIS: The extraordinary thing I want people to see in “Devil’s Pawn” is that ordinary things in our lives can have implications that extend to others: you can call it ‘a web of consequences of human connectedness.’ You will see it in the way the characters in the story thread their ways into and out of each other’s lives. Also, very important, I used the book to highlight so many issues I want to talk about. Nigerians will see their realities in many ways than one.
Ojo: As a poet, brainy-poet as you refer to yourself, how does writing fiction and other forms of art interface into “your” own uniqueness?
KIS: I will be pretending to say I consider myself to have some kind of recognizable uniqueness when it comes to writing. Maybe the unique thing about me is that I am ordinary. Writing all forms has made me what I am. In all my writings, I tell stories as in fiction and use a lot of metaphors and language manipulations as in poetry and infuse action and movement as in drama. This is what has happened because I write all genres. Interestingly, I didn’t start off as a poet. I found poetry long after I found art (drawing and sculpting) and prose writing.
Ojo: Words Rhymes & Rhythms (WRR), a publishing company you established is one of the mainstream publishing houses in Nigeria today. How long have you been running the company and what was the rationale behind it?
KIS: Let me tell you something interesting. We didn’t set out to own a publishing firm. We created a support platform for writers and the publishing came a few years later, 2015 to be precise. What is more interesting is that we have rebranded our publishing arm into Authorpedia, with a brand-new website – autorpedia.net – where we offer a unique-to-us publishing service we called Assisted-Authorship-Publishing (AAP). From the name you’ll see that we are still driven by a need to ‘assist’ writers. Under this AAP we give authors traditional publishing quality but with the freedom and flexibility of the vanity publishing system. The idea behind it is the need for a system of publishing that allows you freedom to create a book of high quality with professional guidance and at affordable cost.
Ojo: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your publications over the years and the quality of your published authors? What gains so far?
KIS: Rating is a difficult thing if you do not know what you are measuring against. However, if I consider the affordability, ease and flexibility of our publishing process as well as the quality we eventually put out in the light of what the economy permits and what our competitors are doing, I would give us above seven. We definitely need to and want to improve and we are already making plans around that.
Ojo: Recently, your company published ten free chapbooks for young writers. What informed this sense of magnanimity and what more should the literary community expect from your company in not too distant a time? How many have you published?
KIS: This is not the first time we are publishing authors free. It is only that this one was loudest. We should have published no less than 30 writers free. Out of this, almost half are printed books. We are particularly interested in young writers. The reason I do these things is simple. Young writers are wasting away and they are looking for a way to stamp their ideas on the world’s pages, but they do not have the funds for it. I happen to have some funds and a platform. Why not help? That is it.
Ojo: CONSIO is one of the latest magazines you added to your numerous productive activities within the Nigerian Literary circle. What exactly will it be doing? How robust is this magazine to fill-in a space and do you pay featured authors in the magazine?
KIS: As with most of my projects, the idea is always to do more at less cost. We are not paying contributors. The editors are volunteers and everyone is happy, for now. The purpose of the magazine is to be the ‘go to’ platform for Nigerian writers. I am tired of seeing people celebrate acceptances into some tiny journals abroad like a mega million jackpot win. If we do not have platforms, we will soon see all our artists publishing outside of Nigeria.
Ojo: Your company runs the monthly ‘Brigitte Poirson Poetry Prize.’ What are your experiences so far as the administrator of the prize and how do you finance it?
KIS: ‘Brigitte Poirson’ has been financing it 100% and that includes paying for the printing of the annual anthology and also the monthly prizes. It was only the first two years that I paid for the monthly prize while Brigitte paid for the anthology. WRR still pays for the grand prize, the ‘Albert Junger’s Prize.’
Ojo: Do you have any partnership with other literary organizations in Nigeria or elsewhere?
KIS: Yes. Many actually. We sponsor several literary bodies/events managed by young Nigerians. The only thing is that I do not talk about it. It is always a private sponsorship. We also partner with others like Sprinng, providing technical support in one way or the other.
Ojo: You solely sponsor the yearly “Feast of Words.” How long have you been running it and what is the ideology behind such enviable event?
KIS: The event has held since 2015 unfailingly, with no ticket, free food, books as well as accommodation and transportation for the most vulnerable. The sole idea behind it is for writers to meet from all over the country in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. That is all. Thankfully, WRR is making enough profit from publishing to pay the costs annually. We started small and are growing.
Ojo: Do you get any kind of sponsorship from the Government to run your activities? If no, how should art platforms go about getting one; so as to keep the survival of their programs?
KIS: Does government still support art? It’s funny. I have never gotten support from any institution. Even the University of Ibadan, whose students benefit from our activities, refused to give us discount on their halls several times. They make us pay for fuel for their generator and even almost chased us out of a hall we had paid for, some time ago. Look, I personally dislike sponsorship I have to beg for because most come with caveats and I dislike caveats. I prefer to grow slowly at a pace I can afford, with unsolicited help if it comes, than go chasing government officials. I think many art platforms get it wrong. They want to hold an event and create a humongous budget they cannot provide 10% of on their own. An event costs 400,000 naira and the prizes there total 50,000 while refreshment is not more than 20,000. What is that?
Ojo: The crisis that has continued to engulf the national body of ANA is a common knowledge within the literary space in Nigeria. What does this quagmire represent for other thriving Literary Platforms and Nigerian Literature, and what do you consider a way forward?
KIS: The crisis was created. It can be undone. Unfortunately, the people behind it do not want it to end. As far as I am concerned, there is an ANA President and his name is Ahmed Maiwada. If the ‘owners’ of ANA want to move on, let’s forget the past and move on with Maiwada. We can begin to insist on reforms, but we should not go back to the past; otherwise, ANA will even be more dead than it is.
Ojo: What should the experienced Adult writers do to help upcoming young writers thrive? Do the young ones need them? They seemed not to care about the young ones.
KIS: I do think many adult writers care and are doing a lot for young writers. Maybe it is not obvious enough. But, they are. Many of the current crop of writers were raised by the ‘older’ ones. Nkem Akinsoto had ‘Naijastories.’ Eriata Oribhabor has ‘PIN.’ You have Emman Shehu’s ‘Abuja Writers’ Forum.’ You have the ‘Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation’ and many more. I think the problem is that young writers expect something else. They want to be pampered with time and money, but these older writers are working, managing families and contributing to literature at the same time. Many so-called older writers are struggling with personal, literary and business issues that a young writer would not understand until much later.
Going back to your question, I think young writers need guidance – even though many of them do not listen. The more experienced writers should try, if possible, to guide them, help them edit, point them to opportunities and give financial support where needed. Many are already doing this.
Ojo: What does the future of Nigerian writers look like in the world? I ask this because Ben Okri seems to believe that African literature will lead the world. And I can see young Nigerian writers leaving the country. What is the implication of this?
KIS: It is bright. This is not me being optimistic. It is the reality. Look at the top names in the global writing world that have emerged in the last decade. Don’t you see how many are Nigerians? The writing (creative) industry has evolved far ahead of the country itself and, from the viewpoint of a writer and publisher, the prospects are great.
Ojo: Do you think that the proliferation of writers’ platforms is healthy for Nigeria? Isn’t it causing a decline for big ones like ANA?
KIS: I personally feel we cannot have too many literary platforms. We are a large country and no single platform can boast of a true nationwide coverage with impact evenly felt. Even the rapidly growing ‘Poets In Nigeria’ is yet to go a quarter of the country in the true sense of it. What we have is a small mushroom providing the best they can in a small niche. This is good, because it also makes it possible for multiple growth trajectories for the industry, rather than one-directional growth that would be the case if we have just one or a few. So, no, the proliferation of writer’s platforms is not unhealthy for Nigeria. And, yes, it is causing decline for big ones like ANA because they chose to let that happen. ANA should be a big beneficiary of this proliferation. However, because of the irresponsible and tactless leadership, ANA is losing to every tiny body that springs up.
Ojo: Thanks for your time. Wish you all the best from the LitVo team.
KIS: Thank you too.
Ojo Olumide Emmanuel is a Nigerian poet, playwright and book editor. His works have appeared and forthcoming at Boll Man Bridge Review, Writers Egg Magazine, INNSAEI Journal, Feral, Quills, Poets in Nigeria (PIN), WRR, The Nigeria Review (TNR) and elsewhere. He is an Assistant Editor at The Nigerian Review (Teen/interview section). He was a judge for the Splendour of Dawn Poetry Competition (February edition, 2020). He was longlisted for the Poet in Nigeria Student Poetry Prize (2020) and was shortlisted for the Arojah Student Playwriting Prize. He is an Alumnus of the SprinNG Writers Fellowship. Email – firstname.lastname@example.org, Instagram- @emmanuelolumideojo, Facebook- Ojo Olumide Emmanuel, Twitter- @ojoolumideEmma2.